I have said that today is the proudest day of my life. For an enslaved people, there can be no greater pride, no higher honour, than to be the first Soldier in the Army of Liberation. But this honour carries with it a corresponding responsibility and I am deeply conscious of it. I assure you that I shall be with you in darkness and in sunshine, in sorrow and in joy, in suffering and in victory. For the present, I can offer you nothing except hunger, thirst, privation, forced marches and death. -Singapore, 1943
Netaji Subash Chandra Bosehad been a born rebel, there was the anecdote about him attacking, the English lecturer at his college, who had made racist and derogatory comments about Indian natives. As he himself stated in a speech to the students at Amravati in 1929, ” I still remember very clearly the day when my Principal summoned me to his presence and announced his order of suspension and his words still ring in my ears – “You are the most troublesome man in the College.” The rebellious, independent spirit was present in him, from quite a long time, and combined with his own intelligence, made him one of the finest thinkers ever. It was this independent, rebellious streak, that saw him, give up a lucrative job with the Indian Civil Services, and plunge into the freedom struggle. That was the time he came across his mentor Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, an activist and freedom fighter, as uncompromising and rebellious as Bose was. Deshbandhu had earlier quit the Congress party, due to differences with Gandhiji over the No Council Entry policy, and formed the Swaraj Party along with Motilal Nehru.
With regard to village self-government, it is not necessary to remind an Indian audience about the village Panchayats — democratic institutions handed down to us from days of yore. Not only democratic but other socio-political doctrines of an advanced character were not unknown to India in the past. Communism, for instance, is not a Western institution. Among the Khasis of Assam, to whom I have referred, private property as an institution does not exist in theory even today. The clan as a whole owns the entire land
C.R.Das, Motilal Nehru, N.C.Kelkar were among the Congress members, who opposed Gandhiji’s suspension of the Non Cooperation movement in 1923, over the Chauri Chaura incident, creating a division between them and those who supported Gandhiji’s decision. Subash Chandra Bose, along with Vithalbai Patel was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the tactics of the Congress Party, with both of them favoring an increasingly militant and aggresive approach. Deshbandhu’s death in 1925, saw a weakening of the Swaraj Party, and Netaji losing his political mentor, which however did not deter him from action. Already elected twice Mayor of Kolkata, Netaji toured extensively in Europe during the 30’s visiting Mussolini among the other leaders, and that had an influence on his ideology too. While Netaji was heavily influenced by European nationalist movements and thinkers, especially Garibaldi and Mazinni, he sought to combine it with the best of Indian political and spiritual traditions, a fact resented by the more left wing counterparts of his. He believed that most of the existing political systems in the West already were in practice in India for long, be it Communism, Republicanism or Democracy. What he looked forward to was a philosophy that sought to combine the best of Western political thought with institutions that were already existing in India.
Indian nationalism is neither narrow, nor selfish, nor aggressive. It is inspired by the highest ideals of the human race, viz., Satyam (the true), Shivam (the good), Sundaram (the beautiful). Nationalism in India has instilled into us truthfulness, honesty, manliness and the spirit of service and sacrifice.
Again Netaji did not believe in one race, one culture kind of unity that was propagated by most of European thinkers. He did not believe in imposing a dull uniformity in the name of unity, that tried to suppress differences. For him true unity was achieved only in respecting diversity, accepting differences, the mosaic pattern as opposed to the standard melting pot model. It was precisely the same reason, why he was opposed to the Russian model of communism, though some of his own ideals were pretty much on the left side. He was opposed to the communists idea of internationalism and use of British cloth, I guess one reason, why for decades, the Communists refused to accept him. The communists felt that the labor movement should not be linked with Nationalism, to Netaji both of them were not mutually exclusive.
In the same province where uniform conditions prevail, Khadi does not make much headway in those tracts which are less poverty stricken. In other words, as long as economic condition of the masses is below a certain level, they gladly take to the spinning wheel; but when that level is reached they have a tendency to look out for a more lucrative employment, whether in agriculture or in industry.
Netaji again had his own doubts on the utility of the Khadi movement. As he had stated earlier, while it was helpful for masses, existing at a subsistence level, once they cross that stage, they seek more gainful employment. I guess a lesson here somewhere for the NREGA scheme masters. Netaji believed that more mass participation in the freedom movement was possible, only if the issues that directly concerned them were taken up along with the cause for freedom. As he put it, barring stray cases as in Bengal, when they took up the cause of jute farmers or in Gujarat on nonpayment of taxes, “we have seldom been able to make a direct appeal to the economic interests of the masses”. Netaji’s impatience with the Congress party was not just in it’s approach toward fighting for independence, he felt it remained a party of the bourgeois elite, far distanced from farmers, workers and the youth. Netaji spoke in a language that reached out to the youth of the times, he knew and understood their feelings much more than some of the worthies in the party.
I mean the kisans, workers and youngmen. These sections have economic or social grievances against the Congress and hence they kept out because the Congress ought to remove the grievances, social and economical and be not content with the political ones only. We ought to bring them into our fold and harness their energies and resources. Unless the Congress is able to identify itself with the cause of the oppressed classes, I cannot see how the congress can push forward its political programme.
The major difference that caused a split between Netaji and the Gandhi faction in the Congress, was the approach towards total boycott. Netaji felt that with the mood of the nation, totally for a boycott, it made no sense to enter the Councils, it was the best time to exert pressure on the British. He believed it made no use, for Indians to go to the Round Table conference unless, they were given full powers. He quoted the example of the pact between Britain and South Africa, where the former had to agree to accept the S.African constitution in full, with no changes, which is what he sought too. He wondered why the British had to send in the European Chambers of Commerce, Ruling Chiefs etc, when this was clearly a matter to be worked out between the British Govt and the Indian representatives. The differences between him and Gandhiji were too deep, and when Netaji won the election to the post of President at the 1939 Tripura Congress, Gandhiji took it as his own defeat. And with some deft manipulations by Gandhi’s clique, Netaji was forced to resign from the Presidentship post. It was a poignant moment, when Netaji suffering from fever, came on a stretcher to submit his resignation at the venue, and to replace whom, a man called Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramaiah, pretty much a mediocre personality, whose only qualification was being Gandhiji’s yes man. One of the persons who strongly supported Bose, was Pasumpon Muthuramalingam Thevar, in fact he mobilized the entire South Indian votes for Netaj. Pasumpon was also disillusioned with the Congress inability to force the British to repeal the Criminal Tribes Act, became one of the key figures in the Forward Bloc founded by Netaji, the other key personalities being Khurshed Nariman, Senapati Bapat from Bombay,S.B.Yajee from Bihar, S.S.Cavasheer from Punjab.
It will be seen at once that if the principle of freedom is to be applied to society and made the fundamental basis of the society of the future; it will mean nothing short of social revolution. Freedom for the whole of society will mean freedom for woman as well as for man; freedom for the depressed classes and not merely for the higher caste; freedom for the poor and not merely for the rich; freedom for the young and not merely for the old; in other words, freedom for all sections, for all minorities and for all individuals. Thus freedom implies equality and equality connotes fraternity
What Netaji did not believe was in a false kind of freedom, that would only benefit the bourgeois upper classes and the elite, he like Bhagat Singh, sought a genuine freedom that would touch every section of society. To him, mere political freedom, without emancipation of the poor, the depressed classes and women was meaningless. Netaji was also influenced by the ideals of Swami Vivekananda, and Bhagvad Geeta. He quite often drew on India’s glorious spiritual past, its cultural heritage, yet he was not one to be living there forever. While influenced by European nationalist thinkers like Garibaldi and Mazinni, with respect to waging a political struggle, he believed in the spiritual renaissance of India.
India possesses all the resources – intellectual, moral and material, which go to make a people great. And India is still living, in spite of her hoary antiquity, because she has to become great once again; because she has a mission to perform.
What Netaji believed in was the idea of an India, that would awake itself from it’s slumber, and begin to be true to it’s potential. He wanted an India where citizens are awake, in ceaseless activity, or what he called our elan vital, a concept derived from French philosopher Bergan, which refers to the vital impetus that can drive us to activity and progress. For Netaji it was the desire for freedom, for expression, a desire to revolt against bondage. Netaji wanted the people to study the ancient history, observe where the degradation took place. For him all concepts like deeksha or initiation, led to the end goal-freedom.
The Youth Movement is an emblem of our dissatisfaction with the present order of things. It stands for the revolt of Youth against age-long bondage, tyranny and oppression. It seeks to create a new and better world for ourselves and for humanity by removing all shackles and giving the fullest scope to the creative activity of mankind. The Youth Movement is not, therefore, an additional or an exotic growth superimposed on the movements of today. It is a genuine independent movement, the main springs of which lie deeply embedded in human nature.
It is precisely his desire for complete revolution and freedom, that led to his appeal among the youth, many of whom saw the Congress as a borgeuois old party, filled with old fashioned ideals. To Netaji, the youth movement was not just another political movement, it was a holistic movement designed to fulfil the needs of the human soul. For him freedom and self fulfilment were two goals, that had to exist together, one without the other was meaningless.
Little do you know how much Bengali literature has drawn from the earlier history of the Punjab in order to enrich itself and edify its readers. Tales of your heroes have been composed and sung by our great poets including Rabindranath Tagore and some of them are today familiar in every Bengali home. Aphorisms of our saints have been translated into elegant Bengali and they afford solace and inspiration to millions in Bengal.
Netaji had a phenomenal knowledge of Indian history and culture, an aspect that made him reach out to every region in India. Immensely proud of his Bengali heritage and culture, yet at the same time, he recognized the unique cultural synthesis of India, where each and every region, drew something from another region. To him though India’s salvation did not lie in living on past glories, and clinging on to outmoded theories. He felt that if India and Asia, were to throw off the yoke of Western humiliation, they had to look forward, move ahead. He sought a revolution of ideas in thought, he desired a complete freedom, where individuals could express, think and move. A freedom that could unshackle the mind and spirit.
So was the INA a failure?
In strictly black and white terms, the Indian National Army , was a failure, and too often Bose’s authoritarian control was blamed for it. As the dictum goes History is written by the victors and not the vanquished. Leaving aside the merits of Bose’s strategies and his tactics, if we take it on a broader level, the INA, succeeded on many aspects. The INA was a shining example of how he managed to integrate the different communities of India into one. Bose went beyond the platitudes of Hindu-Muslim bhai, bhai, and Unity in Diversity. He walked the talk. Hindus, Muslim, Sikhs, Parsees all were melded together as one, and he actually created a pan Indian identity.
But more than military victories, the INA, succeeded in winning the hearts of people. Ordinary Indians responded in thousands to his call, people willingly gave money and their gold to him. While all other political leaders just paid mere lip service to cause of women, he raised a woman’s regiment in his army. The INA failed in it’s final assault on Imphal , because of their dependence on Japanese for logistics, and the heavy rain. As also the superior air power of the British.
But it was the later events that would show how successful the INA was. After the war, when 3 officers of the INA, Gen Shah Nawaz Khan, Col Prem Sehgal and Col Gurbux Singh Dhillon were put on trial in the Red Fort, the person defending them was none other than Jawaharlal Nehru, himself, in spite of the fact, that Nehru and Bose differed in their views. Both the Congress and Muslim League, made the defense of the 3 officers a major political issue. The British Government was so alarmed that it had to stop BBC from broadcasting this story.
But it could not prevent mutinies from breaking out in the British Army , especially the one by the Indian soldiers of the Royal Navy. Chennai, Pune, Jabalpur all saw the Indian soldiers rising in mutiny. The British often used the Indian soldiers as cannon fodder, they did all the dirty work, were the persons on front line in conflict and in many World Wars, many Indian soldiers died fighting for the British empire. Yet in grant for this, the British, treated the Indian soldiers as second class citizens, and exploited them. It was Bose’s Indian National Army which sparked the uprising. Years later Clement Atlee , cited the revolts of the Indian Army, as a major decision, to grant independence. Britian already economically and militarily weakened, after WW2, knew that it could no longer trust the Indian armed forces to prop up it’s Raj. So in a way, Bose, contributed significantly to the end of the Raj.
So was Netaji too Utopian for his own good? I conclude this post with a quote of what he said about himself, and leave it to the readers to judge.
Friends, I do not know if you will consider me to be Utopian in my theories or if you will dub me a visionary. But I shall plead guilty if I am accused of being a dreamer and I love my dreams. These dreams are to me as real as the workaday world is to the man in the street. From my dreams I derive inspiration and motive power. Without these dreams I can hardly live for life will lose its meaning and it’s charm. The dream that I love is that of a free India; India resplendent in all her power and glory. I want India to be the mistress of her own household and the queen of her own destiny; I want her to be a free republic with her own army, navy, and airforce and her own ambassadors in the capitals of free countries.
Acknowledgement : This article on Netaji which I have written, was primarily based on various sources of information, and it would not be fair on my part not to acknowledge the credit. Some of the material here is from two of my blog posts on Netaji at this personal blog, which I have included here.